Book: Granta 49: Money
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The Independent Culture
WHAT would become of Britain's bookshops if all readers carried on like Richard Rayner? The dust is just settling after his racy, autobiographical account of undergraduate thievery in the latest issue of Granta. This confession (complete with period portrait of the novelist as medallion man) details such transgressions as the purloining of fellow students' chequebooks, the burglary of a friend's rooms in College and the ransacking of the home of rich family friends; but the aspect of his criminal career that has caused most outrage is his compulsive book-stealing, principally from Heffers Univer-sity Bookshop in Cambridge. The account is detailed but curiously unconvincing; at one point he walks out in full view of the staff, clutching a biography of Keats and Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy and muttering: "Won't see me, can't see me, won't see me, can't see me..."

The newly launched "largest bookshop in the world" could have been designed to combat outbreaks of Raynerism. The Internet Book Shop brings 750,000 titles to your fingertips and is open every hour God sends. Users won't be downloading entire tomes, though; this is basically a high-tech mail order service. Browsing is confined to an austere list of titles - though a number of forward-thinking publishers are contributing reviews, jacket graphics, author biogs and even the odd sample chapter. To order, the user clicks on a book title and fills in the on-screen order form. Orders are then passed on to boring old conventional booksellers to fill, while the IBS takes a 5% commission.

There's only one snag. All this futuristic stuff isn't very sensuous, is it? Rayner writes lovingly about the first book he stole, John Donne's Sermons, with its "tan and red dust jacket and handsome black boards", its paper "thick and stiffish with the sweet, yellow colour of Cornish ice-cream". With fetishists like Rayner around, the traditional bookshop will surely never die.

8 `Granta 49: Money' is published by Penguin at £7.99. The Internet Book Shop: http://www.bookshop.co.uk/